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Thursday, February 07, 2008

Leusictic Birds

Leucistic female House Sparrow

I recently photographed this interesting, "leucistic" female House Sparrow in GA, with abnormal amounts of white in her head plumage. My first thought when I saw her was, woah, what have we here? An unusual species of bird? Did someone spill paint or something on her head? Was she roosting at night on a branch below the rear end of another House Sparrow and got you-know-what on her head (we've seen that happen with Turkey Vultures)? I quickly realized, none-of-the-above and that her plumage was actually white.

There's not total agreement on what constitiutes leucism vs. varying degrees of albinism in birds. Some say a bird with any amount of abnormal white plumage, but with dark eyes, would be leucistic. Some say an albino bird has no pigment in its feathers, bills or legs, thus would be all white with pink eyes. Whatever the definitions, one thing is certain. Leucistic birds and albino birds attract a large amount of attention.

- A hummingbird website, the Hilton Pond Center for Piedmont Natural History, got national media attention when they banded an albino hummingbird.

- Then there was the photo of a mostly white Pileated Woodpecker discovered in the White River National Wildlife Refuge in Feb. 2006 as well as documentation of a second Pileated Woodecker with an abnormal amount of white on its wings, that led to speculation the bird in the famous Luneau video was not an Ivory-billed Woodpecker but a Pileated Woodpecker with an abnormal amount of white.

- A search of Google images "leucistic birds" leads to many photos of birds with abnormal white in their plumage

We ourselves have seen leucistic Common Grackles, American Crows, America Robins and American Goldfinches.

If you have seen, or have photos of leucistic or albino birds, email us.

Photos © Lillian Stokes, 2008


Unknown said...

There's a leucistic red-tailed hawk that lives in the vicinity of the intersection of Rt. 3 and Rt. 128 in Massachusetts (Bedford/Burlington line). I often see it in the parking lot where I work or perched on a tree next to Rt. 3. Sorry no pix. It's such an amazing sight that people often report it to the massbird list.

Bird Feeder Scott said...

Interesting information, and some great pictures! The albino hummingbird link you posted is also fascinating. I wonder if leusictic birds and albino birds are more prone to become another animal's lunch. They certainly stand out, which is not what you want to do in the wild.

Bobby said...

beautiful, beautiful, beautiful photos!
keep updated on the ivory-bill search @, feel free to add a link.

Tom Pirro said...

I really enoyed this post and links.
I have been fortunate to see a number of leucistic birds over the years, which I find fascinating. I have a few digi-bin photos (not nearly the quality of Lillian's photos, but you'll get the "idea") on my blog a "white- headed" robin from april of 2007 and "white-headed" Song Sparrow Dec. 2007. Most notable was a "white-headed" Common Grackle (no photo) coming into a blackbird roost in Gardner, Ma. (May 2007) was remarkably similar to a Yellow-headed Blackbird.